Monday, December 29, 2008

The Reader

I don’t recall exactly when I heard about this movie for the first time, but I was interested from the word go. The story concerns a woman in her thirties who has an affair with a fifteen-year-old boy whom she meets quite by accident one day on her way home from work - but after a time she disappears, right from under his nose, and doesn’t turn up again until he happens upon her at the trial of six women for a crime perpetrated in the name of the Nazis. He is a law student studying the case. She is one of the defendants.

After I read the novel, back in early November, I was even more intrigued. The setup doesn’t give you much of an idea of the story - and none of the notion of its depth. In fact, the mere mention of a woman in her thirties taking up with a teenager is probably enough to scare away a lot of people - and that’s too bad, because those folks are missing out on a fine story that really gets to the heart of human emotion, and how the people experiencing those emotions deal with them.

That the material, particularly in the first act, is taboo, does not mean that we should shy away from it; rather the challenge should be embraced, the more so in the film version because of the courage required to step into the roles and bring them to life. There are dark impulses in the hearts of men, to be sure, but these impulses do not always whollly corrupt those plagued by them. Placing the story within the context of World War II allows lesser evil to be juxtaposed to Hitler, who was wholly corrupted by his dark impulses (and by his religion, but whatever).

Thus, it is the degree to which these impulses corrupt, and the actions and reactions that result, that are the foundations upon which an ultimately uplifting story can be built. To see such a story staged - or filmed - well deepens its impact and enhances its meaning. When we read, we internalize, seeing what we want to see - and refusing to see that which we cannot bear. Watching a story on film strips that subjectivity and leaves us exposed, which deepens the challenge of the material and makes the achievement of translation - when done well - all the more impressive.

We too often ignore or demonize that which we do not understand - witness the idiotic use by some of the appellation “B. Hussein Obama” during the recent election campaign - or which we have been taught to fear (once again, witness the idiotic use...); but difficult subjects make great art because they engage the thoughtful mind and challenge the everyday and mundane that we too often accept as life as we know it.

Kate Winslet is Hanna Schmitz, the older woman; and David Kross is the young version of Michael Berg. (He is played later in life by Ralph Fiennes.) Though it is neither loneliness nor desperation that brings these two together (it is, rather, that lovely and beguiling mistress fate - Michael falls ill on the way home from school one day and Hanna runs into him, almost literally, on her way home from work), it is clear, from establishing shots of Michael’s life at home and Hanna’s solitary life in a flat that can only be described as bleak, that there are emotional voids in the lives of both characters.

The device of an affair between two such souls, while inappropriate on its face, serves to illustrate the desperate lengths to which people will go to forge a self-sustatining connection with another perosn; and that the connection in this case involves sex further drives home the point that this connection is an innately human phenomenon. That this is perhaps not an ideal way for two people at such different stages of their lives to connect underpins the Nazi German setting. (Was there anything ideal about Germany in the 1940s, with the possible exception of the beer?)

Michael throws himself at Hanna, both literally and figuratively, casting his friends and classmates to the margins of his life - a place he occupies within his own family and with which he is familiar (we repeat the sins of our fathers). He has a passion for books, as so many lonely young people do, and he connects further with Hanna by reading to her. The reading and the sex are interwoven, and the bond that Michael feels as it forms and strengthens illustrates the danger in this kind of relationship - Hanna is clearly more important to Michael than she is to him.

Her disappearance rends his life asunder, but quietly. He goes to her flat one day to find simply that she is no longer there. The film transitions abruptly from this point to Michael’s college years, where he takes up the study of law and is unable to connect in any meaningful way with a female classmate who is obviously smitten with him. He sees Hanna again when his advanced law seminar attends the aforementioned trial of six women who joined the SS and later locked three hundred Jews in a church and let them burn to death.

The somewhat languid pace adds to the film’s running time, but serves to show how Michael’s emotions divide him; on the one hand, the woman he loved is in terrible trouble, but she is in terrible trouble for an unspeakable crime that she helped to commit - trying to work this out in one's head must surely be taxing. As the trial continues, it becomes a question of who took up leadership of the group of women, and Hanna is cornered into accepting blame for something that she did not do. While this transpires, Michael puts together a crucial piece of information about Hanna - one that could change the outcome of the trial, and of her fate - but does not reveal this information to anyone.

Much has been made of the guilt of Germans for the Holocaust, and this shame is on center stage during the trial; but what Michael knows turns that idea on its head by transferring the guilt of the Nazis onto someone who knows something that would be vaulable to the defense of a Nazi. Thus the question of whole corruption, and who is corrupted by whom, and by what. Even in such black and white cases like Nazi Germany, there are sometimes no easy answers. It is during the trial that Winslet’s enormous abilities are on full display. Her testimony is hardly forthcoming, mostly short responses to questions from the presiding judge, but it is clear in her carriage and tone that Hanna is not entirely sure what is going on - or else, she knows exactly what is going on and cares only for keeping safe the secret that is her cross to bear.

There aren’t exactly any twists and turns in The Reader - even the revelation of Hanna’s secret is not a bombshell. Instead, the weight of the story is in the effect that Hanna’s secret has had upon her life, and in the way that the viewer is forced to understand that even with moral relativism, there is nothing as it seems. The entire third act is falling action, scenes of active and passive absolution for Michael and for Hanna, and of resolution for both. Though the film does not precisely drag (it comes close), these scenes are mostly longer than they need to be - and the score is close to overpowering throughout most of the film. I don’t know that, put together, these two can stand only as minor quibbles, because they are distracting and they take away from the power of the story and the power of Winslet’s exceptional performance. The film as a whole, however, remains very, very good. If you are up to the challenge, this is a deeply satisfying film.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

New Photos #2

The first batch of new photos over on my Picasa photo page is of Jackson and Dorothy playing together at the Children's Museum Playscape on Christmas Eve. This was the first time Jackson and Dorothy had met each other, even though Dione and I have sort of been talking about getting them together for playdates. The second batch is just a bunch of different shots of Jackson with funny expressions on his face - from various points in time over the last couple of months.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Slumdog Millionaire

I was intrigued when I first read about Slumdog Millionaire, but missed the preview screenings when we opened it; and even though I’ve gotten back into the habit of catching our preview screenings, I rarely make it to movies if I don’t catch the preview. Then, of course, the damn awards buzz started to pick up, and a couple of early critics group slapped their Best Picture tag on it, and I sort of did a double-take. Really? Slumdog Millionaire?

I finally got around to seeing it tonight after I got off work, and I have to say that I was underwhelmed. It’s a well-made film, with really fine editing and exemplary photography (which has not - in the case of photography - been the case with a couple of the movies I have really liked in the last few months, notably Milk and Rachel Getting Married), and there are lots of bright colors and a totally dope thumping backbeat; but when you get right down to it, that’s mostly just shiny window-dressing for a contemporary fairy tale that bobs and weaves amusingly, but never surprises.

Granted, it’s a fairy tale set against the backdrop of the slums of modern day Mumbai, which sort of heightens the appeal of winning a boatload of money and getting the hell out of there to someplace better. The trouble with that, however, is that it’s not the point of the story, which concerns Jamal Malik, a young man who appears on the Indian version of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? with the hope that Latika, the love of his life, will be watching the show and that they can run away together after it’s over.

The film opens with Jamal being tortured by police after he is arrested for fraud. They think that he’s been cheating on the show because he has known all of the answers and has progressed farther than the best educated contestants who have appeared before him. The back story is filled in as the police inspector questions Jamal about how he knew the answers to so many questions. The inspector plays a tape of Jamal’s appearance on the show, and they go through the questions one by one.

The editing and the script here are strong, allowing Jamal’s story to reveal itself slowly. Jenny Lumet’s screenplay for Rachel Getting Married does the same thing, though Lumet deftly employs sleight of hand with her revelations, uncorking a couple of plot points that are unexpected and powerfully delivered. (This is the more impressive given that Rachel is Lumet’s first screenplay.) Nothing in Simon Beaufoy’s screenplay comes at you out of left field, once you cotton on to the notion that this is a quest for true love.

(I think the glaring problem with the way the story is constructed is that all of the questions with which Jamal is set on the show have answers that he knows because he has encountered the information or situation at some point already in his young life - Jamal relates these life anecdotes to the police inspector who, somewhat remarkably, I think, believes what Jamal is telling him. There are only two of the fifteen questions to which Jamal does not know the answer. The resolution of the first brings the only moment of real drama in the film, and the resolution of the second - the last question of the game, the big kahuna - is just sloppy. That he knows the answers to all of the other questions can be accepted within the context of a fairy tale in which you must suspend your disbelief - but based on one of the early anecdotes he relates to the police inspector [which contains one of the film's two running themes], it seems clear that he should know the answer to the last question. It seems an awful lot to ask for a film that is already asking a lot of its audience in terms of winking at the lack of realism.)

Would that true love were easy, forsooth! Alas, it is not. That this is especially true in places like India serves only to sharpen the contrast between the good - true love - and the bad - jumping through the hole of an outhouse (into the soup, naturally) your rascally brother has locked you into in order to keep you from getting the autograph of your favorite action movie hero; it does nothing to elevate the conventions of the story above the cloying fens of melodrama. For all of its technical wizardry (the photography really is very good) and stylish good looks, Slumdog Millionaire is just a by-the-numbers fairy tale with an exotic setting - and the goofy wink, at the end, to eastern mysticism/religion/mythology (they’re all basically the same thing) doesn’t help matters.

For what it is - a fairy tale - Slumdog Millionaire does the things that it does reasonably well; I just don't think that the things that it does are especially interesting. This is not a bad picture at all, but how it’s getting Best Picture buzz is utterly beyond me.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The Big List #12


If you want to read this article in last week’s issue of The New Yorker. It’s an article on the late novelist Richard Yates and his very excellent novel Revolutionary Road, the film version of which opens in select cities later this month (and at your local Mainstream Art House in mid-January). I’ve written on numerous occasions about how good Yates was at his craft, and about how good this novel is - and there’s nothing new to add here. I just feel compelled to mention it again whenever I run across an article about the late writer or his work. I say click on it quick because it’s from last week’s issue, and who knows how long they keep links for old stories live before they archive them for subscribers only?

The Religious Case For Gay Marriage

From last week’s issue of Newsweek, an excellent article on how religious people can do a better job of interpreting the Bible with respect to the issue of gay marriage. It’s illegal for the state to ban gay marriage based on any Biblical argument because that is a blatant violation of the First Amendment; but churches - which are exclusionary by nature - have the prerogative to allow or disallow gay marriage. There are no valid arguments against gay marriage, and hopefully churches will begin to understand this as more and more of their individual congregants start to get the idea.

Washington D.C. Area Film Critics Association

Another best picture award for Slumdog Millionaire, which brings its total to at least two. And yes, I know I’ve been flogging the award winners more than is my usual wont this year - but I’ve actually gotten into the habit of watching preview screenings at work again, and there has been a solid string of movies out since late summer that have piqued my interest. Also, the Best Picture field (and overall field of award contenders) this year is as strong as I can ever recall it being. There are easily 12-15 pictures that I would not at all be surprised to see up for Best Picture when the Oscar noms are announced. And while I understand that the Oscars are a self-congratulatory orgy of excess, I’ve enjoyed watching the show, and rooting for this or that movie to win, since I saw Rain Man as a kid and it cleaned up at the 1988 Oscars.

The Dome Of The Rubble

The Hoosier Dome will be (mostly) imploded this coming Saturday at around nine in the morning. A security perimeter will be set up around the dome, bounded by Maryland Street to the north, West Street to the west, Illinois Street to the east, and Merrill Street to the south; but there should still be plenty of places to park yourself to watch that thing go down. I have to work that morning, but I may try to get downtown before I go in - and I’m thinking that the top level of the Circle Centre parking garage might be a really good place to watch the implosion. Even better would be to park well afield, then walk to the garage - so as not to get trapped by all the other people who might use the garage to watch the implosion and then decide to go home (never mind how many holiday shoppers are going to be out at that hour).

And finally...

You Kids Noticing All This Plight?

The Audubon Court apartments - you know, that giant hunk of plight on the southeast corner of Audubon Road and east Washington Street (right there at the eastern edge of what some of us refer to tongue-in-cheekily as “downtown Irvington” - have been bought by a developer who wants to turn the place into a yuppie enclave, with wall-mounted 42” flat-panel TVs and a “24-hour fitness studio” on the premises. On the one hand, I’m glad to hear that they’re going to do something with those historic old apartments; but on the other hand...a 24-hour fitness studio? I get the sinking suspicion that this will be a place that fills up with people who think Judd Apatow is a genius.

The Rathskeller

Last month found us at Amici’s for my birthday, and this past Friday night found us at the Rathskeller for the anniversary of Amy’s arrival on earth. I’ve been to the Biergarten for music a few times, but this was the first time we had actually gone to eat dinner (we wound up coming back for the music, but more on that later - and it was somewhat surreal). We arrived a little bit early for a 6:30 p.m. reservation and were seated immediately. Amy was quite taken with the design of the interior - the restaurant occupies part of the lower level of the Athenaeum, on the southeast corner of New Jersey and Michigan Streets, where Mass Ave bisects that intersection. Other tenants of the building - which was designed by Kurt Vonnegut’s grandfather - include the American Cabaret Theatre and the YMCA.

While we looked at the menu, we noshed on a trio of rolls (white, wheat, wonderfully subtle dark pumpernickel rye) and a salted soft pretzel in the bread basket that came out with the glasses of water. We also ordered the Pesto French Bread ($6.95) for an appetizer, a small loaf of French bread smeared with pesto spread and covered with parmesan and provolone cheeses and baked in the oven. It came out piping hot - soft and chewy and very flavorful. I could taste both the cheese and the pesto, which is sometimes tough to pull off because of the inherent strength of pesto.

Amy had sauerbraten ($21.95), a roast beef dish prepared with a top secret marinade and finished with brown gravy "accented with tones of currants and ginger." The flavor was both bright and dusky at the same time, sweet and strong - and yet despite a somewhat heavy portion of sauce on top, the meat tasted dry, like a brisket pot roast that’s been in the oven too long. Once meat has gone around that bend, you can sauce it until the cows come home (so to speak), and it will still be dry. I suppose the flavor of the dish makes up for it, but...that’s still a little bit bush league. Amy liked it, though, so that’s probably the important part. Entrées come with two sides and a salad, and Amy had applesauce and a potato pancake. I had the potato pancake with my meal, and it was adequate - palatable but unimaginative, and nothing to write home about.

I went with sausage, specifically the Mixed Wurst Platte ($22.95), which is exactly what it sounds like - a plate full of sausage. German wiener, bockwurst, bratwurst, and kielbasa on a bed of sauerkraut, with horseradish and dijon mustards on the side. All were very finely ground, firm and flavorful - none of that gristly Johnsonville nonsense. This is the real deal - and the mustards were amazing. They were on the spicy side, and the flavor was extremely powerful - like Grey Poupon or Gulden’s turned up to eleven. For those who enjoy sauerkraut, the Rathskeller has the best I’ve ever tasted. Too often, sauerkraut is an overpowering science project testing the outer limits of how much vinegar the human body can absorb. Here, however, the flavor is light and tangy without knocking you down. My other side was German potato salad - a warm, sweet, tangy affair that probably could have been tossed a bit longer to get all of the ingredients completely mixed up together.

I also opted for the soup of the day instead of the salad, and this was a wise choice. Our server helpfully pointed out that we could substitute the soup for the salad with our entrée, a bit of trivia that the printed menu omits. Last Friday’s choice was house-made shrimp and crab bisque. I didn’t taste any shrimp, and the crab may actually have been krab, but it was a thick, hearty soup and could have come out of a box and it would have been better than the fairly pedestrian side salad looked.

You don’t have to settle for German food if you’re not in the mood for that, as the menu contains plenty of beef, chicken, seafood, and pasta choices. The vegetarian choices leave something to be desired, however. The Vegetarian Plate consists of your choice of five items from the “accompaniments” list. This is the same way you build a veggie plate at Cracker Barrel, but whatever. I wasn’t drinking that night, but the beer menu goes on for pages and pages, and most of the choices are unpronounceable. That’s probably a good thing - although I’ve never really gotten into the hard-core German beer scene.

Anything noted above that sounds like a quibble is a minor one. Everything - especially that pesto bread - came out hot, everything was right, the service was excellent, and the portions were goodly sized without being excessive. The Rathskeller’s not a cheap date, but it’s pretty satisfying for the price - not the kind of place those without golden parachutes would dine at very often, but definitely worthy of a return trip in the future.

Now...about the music. Local pop/rock band Peal was set to play at 9pm in the banquet room adjacent to the long narrow dining room you enter when you walk down the stairs and into the restaurant. I don’t recall how I heard about Peal, though I think it was from hearing one of their songs on a Paste magazine sampler CD. I found out that they were a local band and started to keep my eye out for where they were playing. We got back to the restaurant around nine and went in and took a seat. A banquet was ending and Peal was doing a rudimentary sort of sound check (at least on some of their instruments, but more on that in a moment), and then they just launched into the songs.

Unfortunately, they had the lead guitar player turned so far up that you could barely hear the singer's voice - he also plays rhythm acoustic/electric guitar - or his guitar, unless he was slashing through chords sort of like Pete Townshend. I couldn’t tell if the lead guitar player noticed this or not, but he did keep fiddling with his dials on the floor. However, as they played on and I started to go the little bit deaf you start to go when you're listening to music that’s too loud for the space it’s being played in, I could start to hear the singer a bit better. I don’t know the band well enough to recognize more than a handful of songs from the one record of theirs that I have, but I like the basic pop-rock sensibility. For those who are familiar with Rebuilt, Peal has a similar feel to their music - with the notable difference being that Peal’s lead guitar player is talented.

Now for the surreal part, preceded by an annoying part. A little less than an hour into their set, the singer switched from his acoustic/electric to a straight electric guitar - for, you know, more noise in an already noisy enclosed space. It also seemed as though that particular instrument was not included in their rudimentary sound check. The singer clearly noticed this and somewhat frantically tried to get his volume adjusted and his tuning corrected, but I don’t know that he quite managed it. They played two songs that way and then took a break, and that was when Amy and I split. I didn’t recognize the first song, but the second was a cover...of “In The Meantime,” by Spacehog.

Yes, that “In The Meantime,” by that Spacehog. I have no problem with the song, in and of itself. I just never thought that I would ever hear anyone covering it. More surreal than that, though, was the middle-aged black dude with the derby hat who got up with his wife and danced during the Spacehog cover. There is no way I could ever have conceived of seeing that particular spectacle, no matter how much time I spent trying to think it up.

Sunday, December 14, 2008


Okay, let’s try this again - and see if we can keep from ranting against the anti-gay crowd. I didn’t have much luck with that in my first attempt to formulate some remarks about the new Sean Penn movie, Milk. Penn plays the title character, Harvey Milk, a gay-rights activist who moved from New York to San Francisco and wound up becoming the first openly gay man elected to public office in the United States in 1977. He held the post for less than a year before he was assassinated, along with the mayor of San Francisco at the time, by fellow city supervisor Dan White (Josh Brolin).

While he was on the board of supervisors, Milk worked to get a local gay rights ordinance passed and was instrumental in the defeat of an ugly statewide ballot measure that would have required that all gay teachers be fired for their gayness. The measure would even have required that anyone - teacher or otherwise - employed by the public school system in California be fired for nothing more than supporting gay rights. And this was in California, just thirty years ago. Think undoing the massive damage done by King George II and Darth Cheney is a monumental task? How about undoing the damage done by religious conservatives and the impotent Republican windsocks (paging Mike Pence) they’ve hijacked over the years since some inbred idiot decided that anything Jerry Falwell said was remotely relevant? Now there’s a quest.

Damn. There I go again. Must stay on message.

I’m really not all that far off, though. This movie is about a specific period of time in the life of Harvey Milk, but it does more than just talk about this one man. We see what’s going on in the burgeoning gay-rights mecca of San Francisco, but there is plenty of stock footage of news reports and more impotent windsocks - in this case the repugnantly self-righteous rhymes-with-bunt Anita Bryant, a fundamentalist Christian (surprise!) who seemed to get a big kick out of fellating microphones with her goofy anti-gay hate speech - that places the importance of Milk’s work in San Francisco within the larger context of an ignorant white America slo-o-o-wly beginning to understand that you don’t have to be afraid of people just because they are different than you.

This kind of ignorant fear is not easily overcome. Americans are lazy and stupid, they believe what they’re told, and they are resistant to change. (Throw in some red-white-and-blue xenophobia and a strangely non-Republican anti-capitalistic fear of competition, and you have a solid, if somewhat simplified, explanation of why GM, Ford, Chrysler, and the UAW are fucked.) Harvey Milk was over the top, he was obnoxious, he was even - wait for it - brash; but that’s the kind of passion and energy it takes to mobilize the sedentary doltdom that became the American electorate in the post-war years when this country became “detached and subdivided in the mass production zone.”

“Nowhere is the dreamer - or the misfit - so alone.”

Sean Penn lights up the character of Harvey Milk. Though he sometimes comes across as dark and brooding, Penn is one of the more expressive actors working today. He has an enormous range of both motion and emotion, and a way of using facial expressions to show you the things his characters see, not just the things they’re looking at. (That sounded better in my head, I think, than it does on paper. I’m not actually writing on paper, but you get what I mean. Right?) I don’t know if the real Harvey Milk did as good a job as Penn’s version of him at restraining himself from anger and violence and personal attacks against those who persecuted him, but Penn’s version of him is an almost perfect example of the “turn the other cheek” lesson. Probably this is no artistic accident or coincidence, since it does such a good job of subverting religion - the perverted faggot sinner is the one who turns the other cheek, while it’s the do-gooder fundamentalists who clearly have no concept of the “love thy neighbor” bit. How could they? They try to be morally upright Old Testament Christians - except that there is no such thing as Old Testament Christians; the concept is a self-righteous affectation.

Josh Brolin also does a great job playing Dan White, Milk’s fellow city supervisor, who winds up assassinating Milk and San Francisco mayor George Moscone. Brolin has the facial expressions down, too, though his expressive manner doesn’t hold a candle to Penn, who has been a consummate actor for a long tme. The best that can be said about Brolin is that he’s come a long way from Best Laid Plans. It’s no secret that White offs Milk, so there’s no real plot spoilage by mentioning this. Rather, that knowledge allows us to see Brolin’s performance through the lens of fatalism - knowing that he is eventually going to kill Milk allows us to use that knowledge as a point of reference as we watch the character of White develop. There is more going on with Dan White than just homophobia - though there is that (he’s conservative, after all - we can’t give those yo-yos too much credit) - and it is Milk’s success as a supervisor contrasted with White’s failures (the two are often interrelated) that provides the catalyst for all of the combustible issues pulling at White’s heart and mind.

In a lot of ways, Milk is a set piece to showcase the talents of Sean Penn - in much the same way that There Will Be Blood was a set piece for Daniel Day-Lewis (though Blood is superior to Milk, as is Day-Lewis’ performance to Penn’s); but it works as a whole because of the mostly seamless integration of stock footage from the seventies with the film footage they shot in the present day. The photography is not good, but the weaving of real life to fictional biopic lends the film a documentary feel that fictional films tend to lack - while also lending drama to real life events that documentaries often lack (the delightful Man On Wire is a rare exception to the latter).

As has elsewhere been written, the release of Milk is timely because of the national prominence of the issue of gay marriage, and the recent passage of the illegal and discriminatory Proposition 8, banning gay marriage in - of all places - California. It is noted more than once in the fillm that people are more likely to vote for a gay person - and support gay rights - if they know a gay person. I think that this is true - actually, I know it’s true. The more you’re exposed to something, the more comfortable you are with it. Americans have to be dragged, kicking and screaming, to change (the election of Barack Obama notwithstanding), only to discover - undoubtedly to their chagrin - that change isn’t such a bad thing at all. The best thing about the film Milk is how well it illustrates that this concept works.

Friday, December 12, 2008

More Nominations And Awards

Hollywood Foreign Press Association Golden Globe Nominations

Best Motion Picture - Drama
The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button
The Reader
Revolutionary Road
Slumdog Millionaire

I'm a little bit surprised that Milk isn't among the nominees - but pleasantly surprised that The Reader is. We have four - count 'em, four! - movies opening on Christmas, including the first three listed above, and I don't know how I'm going to manage to see all of them - even if I do make it back to the theatre after church to watch The Reader. Here's to hoping some prints come in way early. Revolutionary Road, unfortunately, doesn't bow here until mid-January, although the plus side to that is that I may have time to re-read the novel before I see the movie.

Full list of nominees here.

New York Film Critics Circle

Best Picture - Milk
Best First Film - Frozen River
Best Screenplay - Jenny Lumet, for Rachel Getting Married

Full list of winners here.

Los Angeles Film Critics Association

Best Picture of the Year: WALL-E
Best Actress Runner-Up: Melissa Leo, for Frozen River
Best Screenplay Runner-Up: Charlie Kaufman, for Synecdoche, New York

Full list of winners here.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Ten Again

Posted on MSNBC courtesy of Billboard, is this article talking about a March 24th re-release of Pearl Jam’s first album, Ten. Now...I loves me some Pearl Jam, and they’ve made a respectable amount of money from me - two concerts, all the studio albums, both “official” live albums, the B-sides double set, and four of the bootleg live sets - but they’re getting a little bit goofy with the gimmicks.

There will be four - count ‘em, four! - versions of the Ten re-release, although the article doesn’t really make it clear what comprises each of the four different versions. They say all four versions come with a remastered version of the original album and a remixed version of the original album, with the remixed disc containing six previously unreleased tracks. Then there’s something called the “Legacy” version, which adds a DVD of the band’s appearance on MTV Unplugged in 1992. And there’s also the “Super Deluxe” version, said to contain two CDs, a DVD, and four - again, count ‘em, four! - vinyl records, and two replica items: a cassette containing remastered versions of the three songs Ed added vocals to and sent back to the band when they auditioned him (“Alive,” “Once,” and “Footsteps”), and a replica of Ed’s notebook from the Ten days.

Here’s what the Super Deluxe version looks like, when you follow the links on their website:

Yikes. That whole gob will set you back a solid $140 United States dollars. But hey - they’ll ship it to you for free!

I’m not at all a fan of buying things more than once. I’d probably buy a single-CD package containing just the remixed version of the album, because the only real problem with Ten (apart from the fact that it contains “Oceans” instead of either “Yellow Ledbetter” or “State Of Love And Trust”) is that it’s way over-produced. The guy who did the mix on the new version is the guy who produced the four albums that followed Ten, and I’d be willing to lay out ten to fifteen bucks just on the off chance that the new mix gives Ten the kind of raw, urgent sound that showed up on Vs. and Vitalogy. I might even throw down for the DVD, especially if it doubles as a CD (they can do that, right?) - but $140 for a doorstop-sized aural orgy and a couple of (admittedly cool) collectibles, when I don’t even own a record player? I seriously doubt it. Halve that price and make it a doorbuster special next year on the day after Thanksgiving, and I might get up early.

Looking at that picture is pretty tempting, though...


Another of those lovely little red envelopes arrived in the mail a couple of days ago, and this afternoon I got around to watching Sherrybaby, with Maggie Gyllenhaal, who was awfully good in Stranger Than Fiction, though I have not yet seen any of her edgier work (Secretary, Happy Endings). I happened upon Sherrybaby while browsing DVDs on Netflix and building up the ol’ queue (and yes, I’m enough of a dork that I have to stop myself from making any goofy Star Trek references here, unless this parenthetical counts).

With the benefit of hindsight, however, I realize that I perhaps should have read more about the film, or possibly a review or two, before putting it so high in the queue. See...this is another of those films concerning Desperate Women Who Do Desperate Things To Fix Their Families - and I’ve recently seen two other films that go in this category (Frozen River and Turn The River) and a third film that concerns a protagonist struggling to get off of drugs and back to her real life (Rachel Getting Married).

The first two acts just sort of ramble along, as Sherry gets paroled and eases back into life with an asshole parole officer, an awkward living arrangement at a halfway house, a daughter who barely remembers her, and a brother who has been taking care of the daughter with his wife since Sherry went to prison. Gyllenhaal does an adequate job with the role, but the feeling she evokes is not that of a woman who wants to start a new and better life; rather, she comes off almost as someone who thinks herself blameless and is pissed off at the world for not seeing her life the way she sees it. She has a clear, legal - though not necessarily easy - path back to being a mother who can take care of her daughter. Instead of grabbing that chance and running with it, though, she seems put out that she has to go through these motions.

After a disastrous birthday party for her daughter, at which she arrives late, Sherry takes off running and winds up getting high again. Oddly, this is where the film finally starts to work. After a scene with her parole officer - he’s still an asshole - Sherry is faced with what is, to her, the impossible choice of an in-patient drug treatment program or going back to prison. She then spends a day with her daughter, and the film ends with a heartfelt scene between Sherry and her brother, and you get the sense that there is some hope for Sherry in the end.

The problem is that I just didn’t find myself feeling sympathetic for Sherry during those first two acts. It was almost as if she was a spoiled little rich girl who thought she deserved better than what she had to endure - and the nudity and sex were gratuitous to the point of being vulgar. None of the other characters were remotely interesting, nor developed in any real way - so all of the focus was on Sherry, and it turns out that she’s not really all that interesting.

Next in the queue is Little Children, which I didn’t like the first time I saw it. I just finished reading the novel for the second time, and I wanted to give the film a second chance because the novel is just so good. If you haven’t wrapped your head around a Tom Perrotta novel, you’re missing out. His most recent novel, The Abstinence Teacher (which is a little bit derivative of Little Children, but still a good read) is, according to IMDb, in development for a 2010 release.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Awards Season Begins

Film Independent's Spirit Award nominations were announced on Thursday, with three films leading the way at six nominations apiece - including a Best Feature nomination for each:

Frozen River
Rachel Getting Married

Rounding out the Best Feature nominations are Wendy & Lucy and The Wrestler. See the full list of nominees at the Spirit Awards website here.

Also on Thursday, National Board of Review announced its 2008 awards, with Best Film going to Slumdog Millionaire. Their Top Ten, alphabetically:

Burn After Reading
The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button
The Dark Knight
Gran Torino
The Wrestler

Top Ten Independent Films:

Frozen River
In Bruges
In Search Of A Midnight Kiss
Mr. Foe
Rachel Getting Married
Snow Angels
Son Of Rambow
Wendy And Lucy
Vicky Cristina Barcelona
The Visitor

Anne Hathaway was named Best Actress for Rachel Getting Married, and Melissa Leo won a Spotlight Award for Frozen River. Best Documentary went to Man On Wire.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

What's The Score? Nothing-Nothing. Who's Winning? (Pause, Then Sarcastically) The Bears.

2008, obviously, has been a year of Darwin-awful news out of the non-contiguous state of Alaska - but we have a change to report! There is finally a news item (sort of) out of Alaska about which it is acceptable to feel something other than incredible embarrassment.

For awhile now, the Indianapolis Zoo has been almost entirely bear-less, within the last two years having lost one of its polar bears and both of its Kodiak brown bears to that great hibernation station in the sky (or whatever post-death self-created mythology bears believe in so that they can feel better about having been born in the first place).

Today, however, the zoo once again has lions and tigers and bears - you betcha! They got two of those adorable brown bear cubs down there from the big energy state of Alaska, and that’s the kind of change that plain old average regular standard ordinary run-of-the-mill nondescript inconsequential patriotic Americanonians are hungry for out there in all of those great Americanized states that are just so wonderful and united and of course we just really owe all of that great uniting and Americaning to that great President Lincoln who just did such a great job of really unionizing all of these great states together into this amazing America that we have here today, and you know, that’s just really what it’s all aboat here in this great nation of ours in these Americas.

No, seriously, the zoo now has on exhibit two orphaned brown bear cubs from Alaska. They were orphaned when their mother was euthanized after attacking a jogger out there in all of those great wilds in the great state of...anyway, FedEx brought the little cubs down out of the wild, and now our zoo has bears again. Still no gorillas, but hey! Cincinnati’s not all that far, I guess. (Press release here - in PDF.)

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Chatham Tap

Scott and I stopped in at the Chatham Tap on Tuesday afternoon, whilst gallivanting about town getting some family Christmas shopping done for him (it seems as though his family is taking care of two holidays at once this weekend). I forget how long ago Chatham Tap opened, but I remember it being well thought of in its early reviews, one of downtown’s first of that new breed of eatery known as the “gastropub” - a type of pub that serves food that is of markedly higher quality than what one would ordinarily think of when conjuring the image of standard “bar food.” (Think the difference in food quality between Qdoba and Taco Bell.)

So anyway, the inside looked - to a guy who’s never been to an actual English pub - quite a bit like an actual English pub (mostly because of the soccer team flags and the European beer signs). The bar itself looked a bit like an altar, recessed in a huge niche behind the countertop that was flush with the wall. Since the rent is surely considerable along Mass Ave (especially for new establishments), they make effective use of space - the kitchen is downstairs. We were there after what would have been the lunch rush, but before that group had completely vacated the premises. The fellow serving us was quick to swoop in to ask for drinks and if we were ready to order, but a long time coming back around after we asked for a moment to actually look at the menu.

I opted for the reuben, which I tend to be a sucker for, and found the Chatham Tap version to be well worth the mere seven dollars they charge for it. Nothing fancy here - just corned beef, sauerkraut, Swiss cheese, and thousand island dressing on grilled marble rye - but the ingredients were well-proportioned, which you don’t always find. Too many places skimp on the sauerkraut and fail to grill the sandwich long enough to melt the cheese, though that was not the case here. It might be the second-best reuben in town - behind (of course) the blue-plate behemoth holding court down at Shapiro’s. Sandwiches come with house-made potato chips, cole slaw, or cottage cheese. I tried the cole slaw, which had an interesting twist - sour cream in the dressing. Sounds odd, I suppose, but it works.

Scott had the breaded garlic pork tenderloin sandwich and chips ($7.50) - and pronounced the sandwich worthy. It was a monster, as tenderloins in the midwest almost always are, though it looked to be quite a bit meatier than other tenderloins I’ve seen. Scott went with the house-made chips, fried dark golden and well seasoned. We also noshed on garlic and cheese chips for an appetizer - French fries with a creamy garlic-ranch sauce and cheddar cheese. These were as dark golden and nicely seasoned as Scott’s potato chips, and complemented well by the garlic-ranch sauce and cheese - though not drowning in either.

Pizzas and most of the appetizers are available on the late-night menu (until 3am), and their website claims that they have the best beer list in the city - so obviously they have never heard of Chumley’s in Broad Ripple. No around the world tours here - just a smattering of non-British European beers and the ubiquitous Corona to go along with the usual domestic suspects and a hefty selection of frosty brews from the British isles. (Not that the beer offerings aren’t any good - they just aren’t the best, and shouldn’t claim to be.) That said, though, Chatham Tap is a worthy addition to the gustatory offerings along the avenue.

719 Massachusetts Avenue
11am-3am daily

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Free Dr. Pepper

Probably everybody already knows about this, but on the off chance that you don’t, here’s your chance to get a free Dr. Pepper. Just click here and submit your information to the Dr. Pepper people, and they will send you a coupon for a free Dr. Pepper. But you have to act fast - the offer is only good for today!

Apparently this has something to do with the fact that has-been rock band Guns N’ Roses - which currently contains exactly one original member from back in the day - is finally releasing their new album, Chinese Democracy, today. I don’t know all the details behind it, but all the kids at work seem to have the 411, so I’m just redistributing the wealth, in case anyone misunderestimated the rumors.

The offer is for every person in America - although rumor has it that Slash and Buckethead are excluded - so it appears that those who can see Russia from their house are qualified for at least one thing.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

The Bouncer

This a little bit random. My buddy Scott - whose Random Thoughts blog (unfortunately), like quite a few of those listed in the Blog-O-Rama sidebar, appears to be cryogenically frozen (see what’s going to happen is, we’re going to find a cure for cancer and then we’re gonna thaw out the Duke and he’s gonna be pretty pissed off - you know why?) - is going to be in town (this town) for a few days this week because a turkey dinner apparently tastes better when you drive several hundred miles to eat it. No...I’m kidding. He’s coming home for Thanksgiving, but I have no idea if turkey tastes better if you spend a long time driving to go eat it.

And even though we almost never do this when Scott comes home for holidays, I thought it might be fun to go to the Slippery Noodle one of the nights he’s here - so I loaded up their website today and checked the band schedule to see if any of the bands playing while Scott will be in town are bands that we’ve listened to before and enjoyed. But then the really big print at the bottom of the page caught my eye:

11/25 • Roast of Mr. Marty Bacon (Leaving for LA after 16 years)

Well, now what are the chances, right? They have a roast for Marty, who will be saying fare thee well to the Noodle, the same week that Scott rolls into town? I'm not going to explain it any further, because it would just take too long and wouldn't be very interesting for most of you, anyway. I'll simply leave it at that and let the one person other than Scott and myself who might be amused by it - Steve - enjoy the nostalgia and the memories.

Oh, and it turns out that there will be some interesting music this week at the Noodle, apart from the usual suspects. Chris Shaffer - of The Why Store - is playing Monday night, with Benito DiBartoli, one of the other guys in the current version of The Why Store.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Synecdoche, New York

I’m probably not going to get this right, but I’m going to give it a shot. I watched Synecdoche, New York last Thursday night, and almost immediately got the impression that I would need to see it again to be able truly to absorb all of it and to say whether or not I liked it - altough that’s not entirely true. I know that I liked it; I’m just not sure that I can adequately explain why, and I’m positive that I will make errors if I attempt to explain too much of the story.

See...Philip Seymour Hoffman plays Caden Cotard, a director of plays who has been trying to be successful at staging plays for so long that he has let everything else in his life pass him by. Catherine Keener plays his wife Adele, a successful artist who has grown weary of treading water in her marriage and her life with Caden. Hazel (Samantha Morton) works the box office at the theatre where Caden stages his plays and pines - at first secretly, and then, later, not so much - for Caden. Claire (Michele Williams) is the female lead in Caden’s production of Arthur Miller’s Death Of A Salesman (I can’t make up my mind whether the symbolism here is just obvious or both obvious and heavy-handed) and appears to worship the ground on which Caden walks.

Or the whole thing might be an illustion. That’s part of the attraction of the pictures that Charlie Kaufman pens - Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind, Being John Malkovich, the very excellent Adaptation - that reality is malleable and transitory. Synecdoche, New York is Kaufman’s first turn behind the camera, so I suppose it’s natural to expect that reality will be even more bendy here than in his previous work.

To wit: Early in the film, Hazel buys a house - a cute little bungalow with lots of space, the only downside to which is that it appears to be on fire. She tells her realtor that she likes the house, but that she’s afraid of dying in the fire. The realtor empathizes. The scene is played straight. Not strange enough? Okay. The house used to belong to the realtor’s mother, and her brother still lives in the basement and has no plans to move. More? Later in the film, Hazel briefly dates this person.

Adele, the successful artist? She paints postage-stamp-sized canvases that people look at with tiny magnifying glass eyewear at her shows - think very small opera glasses attached to the head by way of a headband-like device and a room full of people standing inches from the pictures hanging on the gallery walls. She has a show coming up in Germany and says that she would prefer to go without Caden and to take their daughter with her. While Adele is gone, Hazel ramps up her flirtation with Caden, and then points out to him after a year has passed that it’s apparent to everyone but Caden that Adele has left him.

So Caden cleans the house. (This is not a metaphor.) The MacGuffin comes in the form of a letter - Caden has won an important grant to mount a massive stage production that will showcase his talent to the betterment of himself and the audience and society at large. Utterly certain that he is equal to the task, Caden proposes to stage a production of his own life, and takes space in an enormous abandoned building (picture Conseco Fieldhouse if it had been part of the Site B project on Isla Sorna). Stagehands build sets that re-create Caden’s apartment. He hires Hazel to be his assistant. Later in the film, the production casts two characters to play Caden and Hazel, so the production set now contains a real Caden and real Hazel, and a fictional Caden and fictional Hazel.

Caden is in love with Hazel, but their first attempt at getting together is unsuccessful. Caden then takes up with Claire, but that doesn’t last for long, and she walks out on him during rehearsal and storms out of the fake version of their apartment on the set. She tells Caden that she wants him out of the apartment - the real one that they live in - and then looks around at the fake one she is about to storm out of and says, “You can keep this one.” The fake Caden gets into character so thoroughly that he starts to fall in love with the real Hazel.

And on and on.

By the time we get to the end, both roles and genders have been reversed and then - poof! - it’s over. As a character study, the film is unquestionably a masterpiece - perhaps not the “miracle movie” that one review calls it, but certainly a remarkable achievement. And if it feels maddening or incomprehensibe or never-ending, consider this - how suffers the artist who knows how to do the work but doesn’t know quite what he or she wants to say, nor quite how to say it? Must it not be maddening for the artist to have the building blocks at hand and yet be unable to make anything personally satisfying with them?

Synecdoche, New York is ultimately about coming to terms with one’s life and one’s limitations and how those two things impact one’s abilities. For the deeply conflicted, those can be difficult things to sort out. Kaufman approaches the story from this angle unflinchingly, never going for the easy out and certainly not for the happy ending. Does he goes a bit too far around the bend? I don’t think so, but it’s awfully close. At two hours and change, the movie feels long by fifteen to twenty minutes; but it’s satisfying - especially if you’re the kind of person who likes to keep thinking about a movie long after the credits have rolled.

Amici's Italian Restaurant

Amy offered to take me out for dinner for me birthday, and she also managed to arrange for her brother to watch Jackson so we could go out and actually enjoy our meal - so I set myself at work this afternoon to trying to come up with an interesting place to go. However...I had way more to do this particular Thursday afternoon than usual - and even ordinary Thursdays are busy for me, regardless of whether we are busy customer-wise or not - so I only spent about five minutes perusing restaurant listings online.

My first thought was Zing, a new small plates restaurant in the space formerly occupied by Payton’s Place on the northeast corner of Indiana Avenue and West Street; but because it’s relatively new and has been very well reviewed across the board, I was reluctant to try it for dinner at what would wind up being the peak dinner hour by the time I got home from work and we got downtown to the restaurant. The menu is a tapas-influenced mix of small plates and fusion cuisine and sounds awfully interesting - try wrapping your head around roasted beet salad with jicama, feta, green onion, and sherry vinaigrette - but strikes me as the kind of place I want to have a go at for the first time during an unassuming lunch hour on Sunday.

But I of the first places that came up in my online perusing was Amici’s, an indie Italian place in an old house on New York Street in Lockerbie Square - one of those places I have walked or driven past times without number and pointed to remarking, “We should try that sometime.”

Carpe diem. We rolled downtown and were just turning into the alley leading to their parking lot when I realized I had forgotten to bring my camera - so you’re going to have to use your imagination on this one, Steve! It probably would not have mattered if I had brought the camera, though, because the inside is dimly lit (this is not a bad thing, but it is no boon to photography, especially for amateur hacks like myself) and we were seated at a window table right below the bright red neon sign that indicated to the public at large that the establishment was open for business. Any pictures I had taken would have served only to make it appear as though we were dining in a darkroom.

There were a total of four other diners in the restaurant when we arrived, two of whom were nearly finished, so the service was quick and attentive and friendly, though not to the point of doting, which can be a problem when the ratio of customers to servers isn’t high enough. There was a small loaf of hot, homemade bread studded with sesame seeds to start, which was just to the right of crusty but nonetheless very hot and delicious. Often bread is brought to you warm, or perhaps room temperature - but it’s sort of rare that it’s brought to you when it’s actually hot. I thought that this probably portended good things.

Amy ordered chicken gorgonzola, a chicken breast baked with gorgonzola cheese on top and served with grilled vegetables and a side of linguine with marinara sauce, which turned out to be more than she could finish after the loaf of bread and the salad - mixed greens dotted with an olive, cherry tomato, and piquant pepper and dressed in a very light, homemade balsamic vinaigrette. The chicken was very tender and wonderfully seasoned, and the gorgonzola on top was rich and very sharp. The pasta was perfectly al dente, paired with a richly-flavored marinara sauce.

I had seafood penne, shrimp and scallops in a pink caper cream sauce with penne pasta, and this wound up being a really perfectly cooked meal, even if the briny, aromatic capers don’t quite work with seafood and cream sauce. (That might just be me - I’m not all that big on capers, but gave it a shot.) Even beneath the capers and the cream sauce, the shrimp tasted of the sea, firm and delicious. Even the scallops - medium-sized, but tasting more like (smaller) sweet bay scallops than the somewhat saltier (and much larger) sea scallops - were properly cooked. Too often, I think, scallops get short shrift under the broiler or on the grill, which makes them gummy and tends to keep the flavor from coming all the way through - not so at Amici’s.

The penne was also properly cooked, al dente, as was Amy’s linguine. If you must be forced to sup at one of those idiotic chain Italian places, you should avoid the pastas that are difficult to cook properly - like penne, and the even-harder-to-get-right farfalle - because they will almost always be overcooked. The true mark of an excellent Italian restaurant is how well they cook their pasta.

The only downside was that dessert - listed on the menu as either pastries or homemade ice cream (which, yes, is gelato) - did not include cannoli. Our server mentioned when I asked about it that she had been told that cannoli was not cost-effective to serve, but that people asked for it all the time. Ah, well. ‘Twas a minor quibble. Iaria’s is still the gold standard by which Italian restaurants in Indianapolis must be measured, but Amici’s is a viable option - and the view across New York Street of the historic houses in the Lockerbie Square neighborhood is certainly appealing. I imagine that dinner on the patio, some warm Sunday evening as the sun is starting to go down, would be at least as enjoyable - and perhaps more so - than eating on the roof or balcony at any of a number of better known eateries closer to the heart of downtown.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Suppose You're A New Guy - You Have Absolutely No Idea Where To Stick It

So listen...I’m curious about address labels. Do you get these things in the mail? Most of the time they come from organizations that hope hope hope to get a check from you. I just looked through all the ones I have, and I don’t remember where most of them came from - other than the ones that say Amnesty International. I know where those came from. I got some today from WFYI and from Greenpeace, though I let my WFYI membership lapse and have never donated to Greenpeace.

Do these things make you want to send a check to whichever organization sent them to you? Is this really the sweet in the deal that makes people send money? I’m just curious. I don’t really care either way. Yes, it’s nice not to have to write in a return address on every envelope when I’m paying the bills - but it’s not exactly as though life as I know it is going to grind to halt if I run out of address labels.

Or is it part of the larger conspiracy between non-profits and the postal service, to perpetuate the avalanche of direct mail that is, more or less, keeping the United States Postal Service from going broke? (I’m not really into conspiracy theories. That last part is almost entirely a joke. At least 75% joke.)

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Turn The River

(This isn’t a proper review of this film - I just sort of jumped in with the first thought I had about it and cobbled together a few other thoughts. Also, I will be spoiling the ending, so if you haven’t seen it yet and want to, stop right here and move on to the next thing.)

I was going along just fine with Turn The River, probably because there is some part of me that identifies with pool halls and bars, those seedy, dimly-lit places where life is lived on the margins and all of the business is transacted with cash and nobody has a last name. I may have been a gangster in a previous life - or there may be the blood of la cosa nostra running in my own veins, I don’t know. (Such are the things one sometimes wonders when one’s forebears were born and raised in North Jersey.)

But anyway...I was zipping along just fine with this one, even if the dialogue was sort of sophomoric and the editing was choppy and there were way too many shots of Quinn (Rip Torn) looking sagely across the room like he knew strange things were afoot in his pool hall but also knew that he wasn’t about to make a move to alter the course of those events. Perhaps writer-director Chris Eigeman knew that his lines of dialogue were coming out flat, try though Famke Janssen and Rip Torn might to make them seem interesting; and perhaps Eigeman tried to use the camera in a more subtle fashion to show knowing glances or impart understanding. I would say that the results are mixed, and I would say further that that is being charitable. This movie appeals to the Bukowski-esque side of me, but that doesn’t mean it’s very good.

And that’s before we even get to the end. The penultimate scene, when the truck comes to rest against the parking light pole, should have been the last scene. It still would have been lame, but it would have been revisionist enough to have been mildly interesting. But no, there’s that last scene - one last shot of Gulley coming to the pool hall - Quinn, undoubtedly rousted from his old digs for aiding and abetting, has a new place - to get a letter from his mom that Quinn has for him.

Ugh. Really? In a lot of ways - sort of - this movie is like Frozen River. Both protagonists commit serious crimes and rationalize their actions by convincing themselves that they are helping their kids. Frozen River succeeds because Melissa Leo, playing the lead, shows the desperation that motivates her actions in her facial expressions, her voice, her body language. Janssen gives it the old college try in Turn The River, but doesn’t even come close to what Leo achieved.

On the whole, I think Eigeman misses the mark with Turn The River, even though I wanted to like it. There is nothing really bad about the movie, but there’s also nothing that’s really excellent, either; it’s a very okay movie that stumbles in the third act. It’s possible, I think, that it could have been more than it is, though there is only one somewhat striking example of a missed opportunity that comes to mind. After Kailey (Janssen) absconds with Gulley, there is a scene with Kailey’s ex-husband and his new wife in which he explains to her what Kailey told him to say - that Kailey would take better care of Gulley than they could. His wife, with phone in hand and about to call the police, asks him if Kailey is right, and then repeats the question when her husband doesn’t answer. You can tell that he almost confesses that Kailey would do a better job taking care of Gulley - and there is a sense of the dramatic tension that might have unfolded if Eigeman had, say, extended the confessional scene between husband and wife and mixed it with scenes of Kailey and Gulley making a successful getaway.

Eigeman and Janssen attended a screening of this film at this year’s Indianapolis International Film Festival and conducted a brief question and answer session after the screening, during which Eigeman said that Janssen had spent a not inconsiderable amount of time learning to play pool for the role. He also noted that all of the shots she made in the movie are shots she made on her own - no special effects required. Okay. One wonders, though, what might have resulted had as much care been taken with the story and the editing as was taken with teaching the lead to shoot pool.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Free Obama Sticker

To commemorate Barack Obama's sweeping victory in last Tuesday's election, MoveOn is offering a free Obama sticker to anyone who wants one. Like their other free sticker offers this year, you can get one for free and multi-packs for a small donation. Below is an illustration of what the sticker looks like - and you can click here to get one (or more).

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Kind Of Blue

It was just a couple of minutes ago that MSNBC called Indiana for Obama. Today was a good day electoralizationally, but the capper is finally getting to see Hillbillyana go blue for the first time since 1964, which was when the Civil Rights Act was passed and racists stopped voting for Democrats. Shades of that racism still exist in the south, which is one of the reasons - though, admittedly, probably not a major one (if it were a college football team it would be Boise State - and if you get that reference, I'm impressed) - that the GOP has been able to hold this country in a Jesus Christ pose (that's another quasi-esoteric reference) for better than a generation. I don't imagine the state of Indiana has completely shed its goofy conservative roots, but this is a good start. Still way too many red counties, but the ones where the smart people are - Marion, and pretty much pick a county where there's a major university - went for Obama. It's not often that I'm proud of Indiana for anything, but I'm mostly proud of Indiana tonight (okay, technically, it's this morning).

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

The Locality Of Politics: Or, How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Drop-In

A few posts back, I mentioned that I could no longer support John Barnes for state representative because of the vile anti-immigration flyer that we got in the mail. That left me with one option in the race for state representative in my district - Chris Swatts. The initial problem with voting for Mr. Swatts - and it’s a big problem - is that he’s a Republican. And yet, I was prepared to give him some consideration.

And then I got another piece of mail, from a Virginia-based organization called the National League Of Taxpayers. The enclosed letter indicated that I should take immediate action and call on John Barnes to submit his questionnaire - solicited by this taxpayer organization - indicating where he stands on various tax issues. The letter, without using the word endorse, praised Mr. Swatts for returning his questionnaire with Yes answers straight across the board.

I decided to see if I could find these folks out there on the Interwebs. Sure enough, they have a “home page” (linked above). I clicked on About Us and found this sentence in the second paragraph:

“Since the group’s inception in 1994, hard-working Americans have been forced to hand over ever-increasing amounts of money from their pay checks to fund wasteful arts, humanities and social welfare programs.”

Hmm..."wasteful arts” programs. Now...racist anti-immigration flyers piss me off. But calling publicly-funded arts programs wasteful?! That’s around the bend and beyond the pale. We desperately need arts in this country - as much as we can get, from sea to shining sea - because this is a country in which High School Musical 3 is the top-grossing film two weeks in a row and has the best opening weekend of any musical ever. This is what happens when schools across the country slash arts from their curricula and cities slash funds for the arts from their budgets. Larry The Cable Guy gets to makes movies. This is the point to which our standards have fallen. John Grisham is the best-selling author on the planet, and that’s just sad. Meanwhile, really great novels by authors like Ron McLarty, Carlos Ruiz Zafón, and Richard Yates go unread.

Who? Précisement.

Anyway...arts as wasteful. That’s one of the more retarded things I’ve had the misfortune to endure reading. Now, since this wasn’t a mailing from Mr. Swatts, I decided that the only responsible thing to do, from a civic duty standpoint, was to put the question to the candidate himself. I sent an e-mail from his campaign web site on October 29th - a Sunday, giving Mr. Swatts the opportunity to repudiate the taxpayer group’s description of taxpayer-funded arts programs as “wasteful.” I got a response back a few hours later, and this is what he said:

“Yes, I took a stance to hold the line on any new taxes and increases. I very much support the Arts. I believe its important part of a child's education and building a better quality of life in a community. I actually was very involved in theater, drama and drawing during my younger years while in High School and College. I've always supported museums and local exhibits whether attending or through charitable donations. My difference, I believe it should be mainly funded by the businesses, non profits, and charities from the community. We as taxpayer's are forced everyday battling higher taxes to just meet some of our basic infrastructure needs and services for the city and the state. I don't want to exacerbate that with using additional taxpayer funds for arts.”

Not much in the way of repudiation there, eh? So what’s a voter in 89 to do, presuming they have more of a soul than, say, Voldemort? Answer: Engage in more civic duty.

I also had an e-mail out to the Barnes people, asking if the flyer represented Mr. Barnes’ true position on illegal immigration, and also asking about his position on taxpayer funding for the arts. I got an e-mail back from his campaign manager, asking for my phone number so Mr. Barnes could call me - because he “will want to talk to you about this as soon as possible.” Had I wanted to speak to him, I would have provided my phone number on the e-mail form. I’m not much for hob-nobbing, and networking, and all the rest of that crap. All I needed was a quick little e-mail back, saying yes this is me, no this isn’t me. I sent the message to the Barnes people the same day I sent an e-mail to the Swatts people. I got nothing back from the Barnes people until I got home from work last night and Amy told me that Mr. Barnes had just stopped by the house and would be coming back.

I was already in a bit of a tetchy mood at that point, but I gathered my wits about me and received the prospective state legislator. (About halfway through our talk, my mom and her brother, my uncle Steve, showed up, which made for quite the room full of people for little Jackson to look at.) Mr. Barnes had a copy of the hateful flyer in hand, and as he began talking, he tore the flyer in two, vertcally along the spine, creating two pages - one with the racist hate messages (the cover and inside front cover, which had the rhetoric about no gray area, no jobs, no amnesty, etc.), and one with the more modest proposals (the text of the inside back cover). He said that he had approved the text part, but not the cover part.

As with all of the other mailings we had received from the Barnes campaign, this one indicated that it had been paid for by the Indiana Democratic State Committee. Mr. Barnes indicated that he had received quite a lot more support from the caucus during this election cycle than he had during the previous election cycle - when he ran against entrenched Republican Larry Buell (who was at my polling place this morning - ugh). The caucus had approved the racist part of the flyer, and Mr. Barnes claimed that he had not been aware of it prior to seeing the finished flyer. He also said that I was not the first person who had called him out on it. The text part of the flyer is still a bit strongly worded, such as bits like, “John realizes that increased crime and drug trafficking are a major part of the illegal immigration problem.” That sentence has some truth to it, but in order for it to be wholly true, you have to remove the word “major.” It was good, though, to hear from the candidate himself that he does not line up with the kinds of people who vomit the racist garbage about no amnesty and no jobs and all the rest of it.

Mr. Barnes took responsibility himself for the flyer, calling it a “colossal mistake,” which was a pretty stand-up thing to do, since someone else drew it up. Do I buy the entire argument he made, standing there in my living room, that he knew about part of it and not about the other part? I don’t know. After all, he was a politician on the eve of an election, trying to win back a vote. I was mostly sold, though. The flyer of hate was so unlike anything else touting Barnes For State Rep that I was pretty sure from the moment I read it that the mayonnaise must have been left outdoors in the Copenhagen sun. I voted about four hours ago, and Mr. Barnes got my vote.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Rachel Getting Married

This isn’t going to be nearly the rambling odyssey of words that it started out to be Thursday night when I got back from watching Rachel Getting Married. I was afraid when I started writing that it was going to be too rambling, so I put in a bit about how I don’t outline (and how that might be one of the reasons that I have been such a spectacular failure as a writer), and then I got into a lengthy bit about how watching The Silence Of The Lambs over and over when I was in high school had the unintended effect of training my eyes to see things that Jonathan Demme does as a director that are very unique to him - including intimate close-up shots and tight point-of-view shots that let the viewer see through the eyes of the character as the character observes people or scenes that no one else is seeing in quite the same way.

And The Silence Of The Lambs begat Philadelphia, which Demme directed two years later - and which has so many stylistic similarities to Lambs that I realized just how much I had learned about watching movies from watching Lambs over and over again. Philadelphia also featured a lot of the same crew who had worked on Lambs, as well as something like seven or eight cast members who had minor roles in both films. Philadelphia isn’t as good as Lambs, but it works for me in ways that it probably doesn’t work for most other people - because of how much I enjoy the way Jonathan Demme makes movies.

And Philadelphia begat Rachel Getting Married, though there are a dozen or so pictures in between; and I got the idea from watching the trailer that this was going to be another one of those movies that feels like a Jonathan Demme movie - even though the production, casting, and photography were all handled by different players than the ones who worked on the previous two films. The story, of a girl who checks herself out of rehab to attend her sister’s wedding and the dysfunctional family issues they are forced to deal with over the course of a long weekend, sounded interesting, too; and there was the chatter that this role would earn a lead acting Oscar nomination for Anne Hathaway.

I became a bit concerned when Heather at work told me that it wasn’t as good as she had hoped it would be - and she, too, was looking forward to it in large part because it was a Jonathan Demme picture. Heather could stop watching movies today and I could keep going at my current pace and would not catch up to her if I lived long enough for the Elves to decide to take me along with them to the Grey Havens. I was just a little bit worried when I sat down to watch it that I had blown it up too much in my mind and that it just might fail to live up to my expectations.

Before I get any further along, I have to mention that there is a critical plot point that I can’t even get close to writing about in this review. I haven’t read any of the film’s reviews yet, so I don’t know if this plot point is being written about, or to what degree it is being written about if people are writing about it; but I don’t feel like I can write about it, because I think you have to come to it on your own. Its impact on the film is tremendous, and the way it is revealed demonstrates an excellence in screenwriting that I think I am going to hope will be rewarded when the Oscars roll around next year.

Kym (Hathaway) checks herself out of rehab so she can go home to suburban Connecticut for her sister Rachel’s (Rosemarie Dewitt) wedding. There’s a strong sisterly bond between Rachel and Kym, but there is also considerable tension - both of which are evident in their first scene together when Rachel is trying on her dress and Kym comes wandering into the house smoking a cigarette.

Why Kym is in rehab is the critical plot point that I cannot reveal, but what I will say about it is that it is the epicenter of all of the tension between Kym and the rest of her immediate family. She takes the selfish view that she can use this weekend and the occasion of her sister’s wedding to complete one of those fabled “steps” toward recovery - making amends to the ones she has hurt. In doing so, she not only comandeers nearly every scene she is in - she actually seems to infect those scenes.

Hathaway imbues the role with intensity and passion, and really understands the dichotomy between the angry and frustrated Kym who is obsessed with ripping open the wounds of the past and the tormented and broken Kym who desperately needs to reconnect with her family - though she says quite plainly (in a group session) that she believes her own existence now to be worthless.

It’s all very loud and awkward (and occasionally violent) - all the more pronounced because of Demme’s intimate style of direction, which almost always places the viewer within the scene as party to the action, rather than as detached observer looking in from without - but there is nothing else for Kym to do; her recovery is blocked by her self-loathing, and her recovery is all she has left, the only place from which the rest of her life can proceed. It’s not explicitly stated whether she chooses consciously or subconsciously to use the occasion of her sister’s wedding to effect this necessary confrontation - though Hathaway plays Kym with a deliberate determination and keen sense of self-awareness (as opposed to self-consciousness) that makes the viewer all but certain that Kym knows exactly what’s going to go down when she goes home for her sister’s wedding.

As Kym careens toward a climactic confrontation, on the eve of Rachel’s wedding, with her estranged mother Abby (Debra Winger), a sense of fatalism develops in concert with the tragic realization that some wounds simply will never heal. The film concludes with Rachel’s wedding, a beautiful and non-traditional ceremony full of love and smiles and music music music - and it doesn’t for one second feel a bit like a ham-handed symbol of redemption. If it were a ham-handed symbol of redemption, it would present Kym as having completed her recovery, which has not happened. She goes back to rehab as the film ends. Her recovery is not complete - but the obstacle to that recovery, her persistent self-loathing, is gone.

Rachel Getting Married is an absolute gem - a nearly perfect film. (Can we please dispense with handheld cameras - unless you’re making a movie about some kids trying to scare up a witch in the Maryland woods?) I think it might be a bit too edgy to have a really big night at the Oscars, but Hathaway is a lock for a Best Actress nomination - and I think at this point she has to be considered the favorite to win (bearing in mind that a number of other films with probable Best Actress roles - The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button, The Reader, and Revolutionary Road - have yet to bow).

Saturday, November 01, 2008


While I was in Bloomington last Monday, I stopped at the Trojan Horse and picked up some cheesespa’rer - a spinach and feta cheese spread - to take home for Amy; and I grabbed a copy of something called Bloom magazine, which I had never seen before, and took that home, too. We flipped through the dining guide in the back of the magazine on the way to Bloomington on Friday, and got to thinking that we would try something new on this trip, instead of the old stand-bys.

We pondered some of the ethnic places on 4th Street, but never made it that far once we got into town. There were no curbside places to park on 4th Street, so we had to go up to 7th Street and find a block that was public parking and not residential only - and that meant that we had to walk through downtown to get to 4th Street. We decided to walk past a place called Falafels and take a look in the window and at the menu posted on the door - and we decided that we liked what we saw, so that was where we ate.

The place is located at Kirkwood and Dunn, in the ever-changing complex of businesses known as Dunkirk Square. Those who went to IU in the mid-90s may remember a record store that doubled as an espresso bar, which I seem to recall was named Roscoe’s - but I also seem to recall that Roscoe’s was on the second level, and this restaurant (and the record store and espresso bar it used to be) is not. It was two in the afternoon or so when we got there, and I think we were the only ones there, so we were seated pretty quickly. The interior was all wood tables and chairs painted in reds and greens and felt sort of like a plastic bazaar, if said bazaar had been picked up by a twister and deposited in the Shire.

The menu was straight Middle Eastern fare, with no particular emphasis on falafel (though it was on the menu) - it’s just a clever name! I had the Tastes of Jerusalem, a sampler that included falafel, hummus and pita, salad, and a choice of two other items. (Three of the choices were dolmas, which they called something else, babaganoush, and mamaganoush. My choices were the dolmas and babaganoush - but they were out of the babaganoush, so I had the mamaganoush, which was pieces of feta cheese wrapped in thin slices of roasted eggplant.) Amy had the falafel sandwich with a side of couscous.

You may get the idea from the picture that the hummus was served up on the plate rather like you might see a great mound of mashed potatoes and gravy served up at Thanksgiving dinner - and so it was. The stuff in the middle was plain old tahini, the sesame paste that is blended with garbanzo beans to create hummus. Most of the time, hummus has got other things going on in it - garlic and lemon juice are the usual suspects - but this version tasted like it was nothing more than the two main ingredients, and that was a somewhat surprisingly satisfying change of pace - there just didn’t need to be quite so much on the plate.

The dolmas, grape leaves stuffed with rice (and sometimes ground beef, but here only with rice), were a bit less satisfying. They were a little oily and squishy - there’s a fine line between marinating and soaking, and these were not on the happy side of that line. Mamaganoush, on the other hand, was interesting. I’ve never “gotten” eggplant - but this was a thin, roasted (and maybe smoked, too) slice, without any of the seedy goop from the eggplant’s middle, wrapped around a little rectangular hunk of feta cheese. Pleasant counterpoint between the sweet roasted flavor of the eggplant and the sharp sour taste of the feta.

The balls of falafel - ground garbanzo beans, mixed with parsley, garlic, and onions, and then deep-fried - were a little bit heavy on the deep-fried (they come close to exploding like little bombs when you cut them in half with a fork), but largely absent the filler that you sometimes get with bush league falafel, which lets the flavor of the garbanzo beans and parsley come through.

Oddly enough, it was that little mound of salad that was the highlight of this particular meal - at least for me. Nothing but field greens dressed lightly with an oil-and-lemon-juice combination that was mostly lemon juice and paired well with greens that were so fresh and earthy that they might well have been plucked from the ground that morning.

This one is well worth your time if you want to get your Mediterranean/Middle Eastern groove on and have been to Trojan Horse one too many times. It doesn’t hold a candle to the better Greek places in Indianapolis, but it works in Bloomington, where Mediterranean cuisine is actually a bit underrepresented.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Why I Support Barack Obama (#2)

Another reason that I support Barack Obama is that I think it’s a good idea for the very wealthy to pay higher taxes. Free market capitalism contains no correction for greed. There is no reason in the world that ExxonMobil needs to clear $44 billion in profits in a quarter. Someone’s going to argue that profits benefit shareholders, but before that person starts, they should go find a copy of any big company’s annual report (that’s SEC form 10-K) and flip to the section on compensation. The number of shares of the company’s stock owned by its executive management and board of directors might strike you as disproportionate. When the CEO makes 400-500 times more than the lowest-paid employee, something is wrong. This country is already quasi-socialist, so the argument that Obama’s plan is socialism is both erroneous and disingenuous. Until the ratio between CEO compensation and lowest-paid-employee compensation comes way down, a tax on the very wealthy is appropriate.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

New Photos #1

It’s been awhile since I updated the ol’ photo site, although I really meant to get around to it sooner than the last day of my week of vacation. I’ve had a surprisingly full week considering the fact that we went no further afield than Bloomington. We went to Zoo Boo last Sunday, I went to Bloomington by myself on Monday and to the Obama rally by myself on Thursday, Amy and I went to Bloomington and Nashville and then the Southport football game on Friday, and all of us went to the Irvington Halloween Festival and Waterman’s Farm Market yesterday.

Brief sports-related aside: After a goofy regular season in which they went 6-3, including a loss they forfeited because of an ineligible player, Warren Central started sectionals off with a bang, waxing the last undefeated team in 5A, Hamilton Southeastern, 49-21 on Friday night. Additionally, the once-sad-sack Southport Cardinals, who finished the regular season 8-1 and ranked #4 in class 5A (AP), also started off sectionals with a bang, pounding Perry Meridian 56-35. I don’t know that Southport had won a total of eight games before this year in all the time that Amy has been teaching there; but they were lights out this year - largely on the legs of tailback Nick Turner (a 6’0”, 180 pound senior that I would love to see play college football at a place where the team colors won’t change).

Okay, so that was a not-so-brief aside. Whatever. First set of photo updates is from our trip to Zoo Boo last Sunday. Amy found a little green dragon costume for Jackson and we got him dressed up and walked him around the zoo, with all the other kids who were dressed up. He’s at that stage where he’ll be pushing the stroller along from behind and then - without warning, of course - simply stop pusing and begin walking quickly in the opposite direction.

In the next set, taken at the Irvington Halloween Festival yesterday, note the fake human head inside the glass globe on the ground. Also note the little green dragon gazing in what appears to be wonder at said globed head. This is the same little Jackson who was practically quaking in his boots when we took him to one of those Halloween stores so Amy could look for a costume for him. And yet the talking, cackling, howling head in glass globe fascinates. Uncanny.

Third set, and last update for now, has shots from the Waterman’s Farm Market Fall Harvest Festival we went to yesterday. Jackson went on his first hayride, and we picked a pumpkin out of the vast - and extremely muddy - pumpkin patch. The pumpkin is actually way more lopsided than I thought it was when we picked it out. It may wind up becoming the goofiest-looking jack-o-lantern in history. Its innards may wind up becoming pumpkin cheesecake - that remains to be seen.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

It's A Wonder That You Still Know How To Breathe

I made my way downtown to check out the Barack Obama rally this morning, and became completely immersed in the entire Obama experience - you betcha! It was held at the American Legion Mall, and you had to pass through security gates to get into the mall itself. The mall was already full by the time I got there, and I didn’t want to get into that much of a mosh pit anyway, so I just hung back in Obelisk Square and checked out the vendors and then listened to Obama’s speech.

The vendors were really something, all along the sidewalks up and down Meridian Street - handing out free turbans and selling copies of the Qur’an and pointing toward Mecca so we all knew which way to face when the future Sheikh took the stage and led us in our afternoon prayers. He showed a video detailing how he was going to turn the White House into a pyramid and then he passed around a big coffee can and we all threw our money into it and then the future Sheikh just started passing the money around to the people he thought needed it the most. At the end of the rally, he brought Jeremiah Wright up on stage and pledged to turn over the Presidency to the preacher - and Joe Biden broadcasting by satellite pledged to turn over the Vice Presidency to Bill Ayers, who took the stage just before Wright. After that, everyone lined up to pass through the purification tunnel before leaving, where they were encouraged to renounce Jesus and praise Allah.

It’s sad that I feel compelled to add this disclaimer at the end - but I do. It would be just my luck that some rural person would stumble into this blog by accident, while Googling Ted Nugent or trying to find a paperback copy of Mein Kampf on eBay, and then try to pass my jokes off as the truth, the way, and the light. If any such person does get here by accident - I was just joking; but in all seriousness, you should stay home on election day, because you’re way too fucking stupid to participate in democracy.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Goings On About Town (#2)

• The Irvington Halloween Festival is this Saturday, from nine in the morning until five in the evening, on Washington Street between Audubon and Ritter in the heart of “downtown” Irvington. Music, food, a pumpkin pie eating contest, a reptile show - even a parade - all crammed into a handful of city blocks. Be sure to stop in at Lazy Daze for a cup of coffee or tea, as it’s going to be a chilly fall morning. Click here for the festival’s blog site.

• Barack Obama will hold a rally at the American Legion Mall on Thursday (10.23). Gates open at nine in the morning, with the rallying to begin at eleven. Tickets are not required, though they would like for folks to RSVP online. I haven’t had a chance to go to one of these deals yet, but I’m on vacation this week and Amy’s on fall break starting tomorrow afternoon - so we may get to take little Jackson to his first political rally.

• Waterman’s Farm Market puts on a Fall Harvest Festival from September 27th through Halloween. Amy wanted to take a hayride at some point during her fall break, and I think this is the one we’re going to try to do. For the bargain basement price of five bucks (on weekends) you get to tour the farm on a hayride, which then drops you off in the pumpkin patch. The website also mentions a “straw hill” that little kids can climb. Setting the now-walking though not-exactly-steady-on-his-feet Jackson to climbing a hill made of straw sounds like comedy gold, Jerry! Gold!!